Awareness shines a light on all that can be felt and known. So often our own thoughts cloud the direct experience of what is truly present in our own lives. Recently, while teaching a mindful eating class, I was asking my participants how their home practice was going. I was particularly interested to hear how the pausing or “Put the Fork Down” exercise had gone.
One participant shared her experience about setting her fork down and pausing to pay attention to what was going on in her mouth as she ate a piece of watermelon. She described it in such incredible detail – how the texture changed as she chewed, how the flavor burst in her mouth, and how the juice was so sweet. She exclaimed that she had never eaten a piece of watermelon that was that good. Then she added that if she only paused more often and paid more attention, her enjoyment of food and life would be amazing. She said she didn’t think she had ever eaten any food this way. Her enthusiastic sharing of her experience and the connections she made for herself revealed the attitude of “beginner’s mind.”
Wisdom through the body’s senses
Recently I had a similar experience was while teaching a group of medical students. The group was practicing pausing and they were amazed at how much information they received from their bodies. They marveled at how this kind of knowing from the senses allowed them to openly remain with the direct experience. One person said he wasn’t “thinking” of anything else, but the sensations of the food in his mouth, the changing textures and tastes and the eventual shift to swallowing. He said it was as if it was a brand-new experience even though he had eaten pears many times before. A gentle shift from thinking into knowing. This is a kind and wide-open perspective of the present moment.
What’s going on here?
These experiences are pointing to something so simple, yet profound. When a person’s attention is focused in the immediate sensory experience, the mind’s natural tendency to judge, analyze or criticize settles down and is quiet. The present moment experience is all that there is.
Concepts and memory cloud the very nature of things. Once the mind knows something it can’t be unknown. It immediately places a definitive categorization of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral on everything which the mind returns to in order to guide coping and decision making. Mind Hunger perpetuates through the constant reliance on rules like, “I should eat this kale, because it is good for me,” or “I shouldn’t eat this cookie so late, because it will be stored as fat.” This creates a narrowing of perspective and a loss of connection with the body and the experience with the surrounding environment. This narrow view causes stress and confusion.
Using the body’s wisdom
With kindness and trust, the wisdom of the body and the natural world around us informs what is happening now. There is no need to do anything, to fix or change anything. One of my teachers uses the phrase, “the shimmering quality of all things” which highlights a way to “see” and “feel” what is present without conceptualization. This is the beginner’s mind – a freshness, a newness – a way of being in the world which can be returned to over and over again. This willingness to be aware of what is here right now, without words or judgment, provides the space to be inspired and awed by life. A taste of watermelon without the overlay of the mind’s habituated categories becomes a new, vibrant experience to be celebrated.
Have you ever eaten a new food with a beginner’s mind?
Have you ever eaten a familiar food with a beginner’s mind?
Have you ever noticed when you are fully present to an experience how connected you are to your body and to the surrounding environment?